March 29, 2004,
With Hamas vowing revenge against all Israelis in the wake of last week's assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Israel may want to reconsider its recent decision to scale back its security fence in the West Bank.
Especially when a number of other countries fed up with cross-border terrorism, smuggling, and illegal immigration are doing the exact opposite.
Although their actions have received scant headlines, from South Asia to Western Europe, several countries have built or are in the process of building protective barriers similar to the ones erected by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The border-security problems faced by these countries, while daunting in their own right, are a far cry from those of Israel, which is engaged in a perpetual struggle for its very existence, one that promises only to grow more precarious with Yassin's death.
But while the Israelis are currently awaiting an "advisory opinion" by the United Nation's International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legality of their fence, the U.N. has all but ignored security fences built or being planned by Spain, India, Thailand, Botswana, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Could the U.N.'s singling out of Israel have something to do with its historic hostility towards the Jewish state, exemplified by the more than 400 resolutions the U.N. General Assembly has passed against Israel since 1964?
Last month's ICJ hearings at the Hague, which were dubbed an "international circus" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, amounted to little more than a three-day exercise in Israel-bashing, as the Palestinian Authority with support from the Organization of the Islamic Conference dominated the proceedings.
The 15 presiding judges did not hear arguments from Israel, the U.S., Russia, China, or the European Union, all of which boycotted the event. But the ICJ can't hide from the facts.
The refusal by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership to put a halt to Palestinian terrorism has made the security barrier which consists of nearly 95-percent chain-link fence, a far cry from the "Holocaust Wall" that some of its critics have suggested a necessity.
The fence has provided a measure of security for Israel, which has lost 955 citizens (mostly civilian noncombatants) to terrorism since the latest Palestinian intifada began in 2000.
The March 14 suicide bombing in the Israeli port of Ashdod marked just the first time in the past three and a half years that terrorists were able to cross into Israel from Gaza and carry out a successful attack.
This impressive statistic can be attributed largely to the presence of the security fence; so too can the dramatic reduction in suicide bombers coming from the West Bank.
The bottom line is that while the fence may not be pretty, innocent Israeli families are able to rest easier at night because of it. And after 56 years of perpetual war with its Arab neighbors, is any nation more deserving of the right to choose how to protect its citizens than Israel?
In the eyes of the U.N., it appears so.
For instance, nary a word has been uttered by the General Assembly about the security barrier being built by Saudi Arabia along its southern border with Yemen.
The Saudis, who have been among the most vociferous critics of the Israeli fence, began building their own barrier in 2003, purportedly to prevent terrorists and drug smugglers from crossing into Saudi Arabia from Yemen. While the Saudis did pledge last month to halt construction of the project due to complaints from the Yemeni government, whether they honor their word remains to be seen.
The U.N. has also been mum about a razor-wire border fence funded in part by the European Union built between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and neighboring Morocco in 2000.
According to Jonathan L. Snow of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, "[Spain's] fence, designed to curb the flow of illegal immigrants into Europe, has undoubtedly played a role in the death of more than 4,000 people who have died trying in vain to cross the strait to enter Spain."
For the EU, which has been critical of the Israeli fence, funding the Spanish/Moroccan barrier seems a gross violation of its ultra-liberal ideals.
As for the U.N., it still hasn't publicly rebuked India, which has begun construction on two security fences one along its border with the disputed territory of Kashmir and the other along its boundary with Bangladesh in order to stem the flow of Islamic militants into Indian territory.
In addition, the U.N. has yet to issue a response to Thailand, which recently announced that it is building a security fence along its border with Malaysia to block raids by Islamic militants.
Even Botswana and Uzbekistan have erected fences along their borders with, respectively, Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan.
Of course, neither of these countries is likely to be dragged before the Hague anytime soon.
The U.N. has already made clear that when it comes to fighting terrorism, it enforces two different sets of standards: one for Israel and another for everyone else.
Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer for the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.